experiments in cooking

Archive for the ‘Breads’ Category

Night of the Sweet Rolls

Two Fridays ago, I set out to bake one batch of sweet rolls for a Saturday women’s breakfast I’d planned for my church and wound up making three batches instead.

I started at 4:30 p.m., mixing up the dough for an overnight cinnamon rolls recipe I first tried in December, although this time I planned to make caramel pecan rolls instead of orange rolls. I prepared the dough, put it in the refrigerator, mixed up the topping, and left the house for a couple of hours.

When I got home, the dough hadn’t risen at all. I set it out to rise for another hour, and it still hadn’t risen. So I got worried, and I mixed up a second batch. When it too didn’t rise, I panicked and mixed up a third batch using a second recipe for “everyday cinnamon rolls” and a new jar of yeast. This recipe was one I’d used before that doesn’t require proofing the dough. image

Just as I was forming the third batch into rolls, I realized the first batch had finally risen.

Which meant the second was going to rise as well.

So, faced with an intimidating amount of cinnamon roll dough, I turned the third batch into caramel pecan rolls that I baked before I went to bed around midnight. I made the first batch into two pans of cinnamon rolls, which I refrigerated overnight,  mixed up a quick orange icing (adding food coloring to get it to the right color of yellow) to ice that batch after baking it the next  morning, and froze the dough from the second batch.

What I had envisioned as a couple of hours spent making an easy pan of sweet rolls had turned into seven hours of work. I spilled, broke, and lost things, and I used almost every dish in the kitchen twice. 


The next morning, after baking  the orange rolls, I took all the rolls to the breakfast–to which, as it turned out, almost everyone brought sweet rolls. Apparently they did this because I had suggested in an email that they bring “comfort food.”

I was ready to regret the time I’d spent the night before, battling all that dough and getting sticky and dropping powdered sugar on the dogs and missing out on watching a movie with my husband.

But then I remembered–cinnamon rolls are one of the best foods on earth.

So, I ate one of each of my own rolls plus some of what the other ladies brought.And you know what? They were really, really yummy! And I had enough rolls left over to freeze them individually for Sunday breakfast for the next couple of months.

Yes, I did think that night was torture. Yes, I did accidentally spill a new bag of flour over my pajamas and slippers after I thought I’d already finished cleaning up the giant mess I’d made. And yes, I did scream “I hate my life!” several times, which seems a bit melodramatic in retrospect.

But these rolls were so good, so comforting, that I would go through it again.

Overnight Orange Rolls

For Christmas morning 2010, I decided to bake some homemade orange rolls. I chose an overnight cinnamon rolls recipe I got from Chickens in the Road.

This recipes starts with the same dough I used to make pumpkin spice swirl bread in November, the loaf of bread that was only half-cooked and which I had to throw away after arriving at the church women’s breakfast.

I prepared the rolls on Dec. 24 after getting home from our German Mennonite Christmas Eve dinner at Chris’s mom’s house. They didn’t take long—I mixed the dough, let it rise, rolled the dough into a long, and cut it into 12 pinwheel rolls that I lay in my metal 9 x 13 pan, the one that has a lid. Then I shoved the pan in the fridge, where Christmas Day’s ham already waited.

On Christmas morning, the rolls weren’t raised as high as I expected. I wasn’t quite sure how they ought to look. So I let them sit out for about 45 minutes before baking them. It took about 35 minutes in the oven for them to reach the shade of golden brown I wanted. Once they were done, I let them cool a couple of minutes and then I spread an orange glaze over the top.

Unfortunately, as yummy as the rolls themselves tasted, I didn’t like the orange glaze. I might have liked it better as a thicker icing. The thing is, I make the Pillsbury orange rolls in a can every Saturday, and I’m used to the taste of the orange icing that’s included with those. My boys love the Pillsbury orange icing too—I mean absolutely LOVE it—and they were upset that these new orange rolls were merely glazed and not thickly iced.

“Where’s the icing?” Jonah complained.

“It’s on there,” I said.

“I don’t see it!” he said.

“I promise you, I put icing on the rolls,” I said.

“No, you didn’t,” he said, inspecting the roll carefully. Then he wailed, “I want my icing!”

“Tough,” I said. “You get what’s on there.”

Yes, it was a peaceful Christmas morning breakfast in the Nichols family.

At any rate, the next time I make these rolls I think I’ll use a powdered sugar white icing and spread it on thick. Preschoolers expect icing that they can see.

One-Pan Recipe (makes 12-15 rolls)

1 ½ cups warm water
1 tsp yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar*
(Optional add-ins: 1/3 cup oil, 1 egg)**
3 ½ cups flour

*If you have a sweet tooth, add up to 1/3 cup sugar to the dough instead of 2 tablespoons.

**If using oil and egg, you’ll need about 1/2 cup more flour.

In a large bowl, combine water, yeast, sugar, and salt, along with oil and egg, if using. Let sit five minutes. Stir in first cup and a half cup of flour with a heavy spoon. Add more flour a little at a time as needed, stirring until dough becomes too stiff to continue stirring easily. Add a little more flour and begin kneading. The amount of flour is approximate–your mileage may vary! Continue adding flour and kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic. Let dough rise in a greased, covered bowl until doubled. (Usually, about an hour.) Uncover bowl; sprinkle in a little more flour and knead again. Roll out onto a floured surface into an approximately 15 x 8 rectangle.

Orange Filling:
2 tbsp plus 2 tsp butter (softened)

4 tbsp sugar (or brown sugar)

2 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp orange juice

1 tsp orange zest or extract

Brush dough with melted butter, orange juice, and orange zest. Combine sugar and cinnamon; generously spoon onto dough, taking care to get right up to the edges.

Roll dough up and seal seams. How many rolls you get will depend on how you cut the slices.

Place rolls in a large greased pan. To bake right away, let rise 30 minutes to an hour, until doubled, or for overnight rolls, stick the pan (covered) in the fridge. They’ll be risen and ready the next morning.

Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for approximately 30 minutes.

Orange Glaze
For an orange glaze on top, stir together 1 cup powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons orange juice, and 1/4 teaspoon orange extract or orange peel.

Ciabatta for Thanksgiving

The week before Thanksgiving, I froze a dozen homemade rolls and an apple pandowdy, planning to take them to Missouri to share with my family for the big holiday dinner. I happily anticipated my sisters and my brother-in-law and my mom and dad admiring my delicious, homemade food.

Then, the day before Thanksgiving, an hour outside of Lincoln on our way to Missouri, I realized I had left all of my homemade food at home in the freezer.

No matter how carefully I plan, I always leave something behind. Last time, it was my toothbrush. This time: rolls and dessert. It was heartbreaking. Don’t laugh—it was.

I had my heart set on serving homemade rolls to my family. And I have trouble letting go of things I’ve set my heart on doing. But, there were two bright spots: I had remembered to bring some cookies I’d made a few days before, and I’d also brought along the binder where I keep recipes from friends and the internet.

“You could make something while we’re down there,” Chris suggested.

“It wouldn’t be the same,” I said, feeling sorry for myself. I didn’t feel like I could make anything to take the place of the food I’d left behind.

I got even grumpier when our battery died when we arrived at my grandparents’ house for a lunch stop on the way to my sister’s house. We got the car started after letting it sit while we ate lunch, but I was in gloomy spirits.

“Boy, this is some trip!” I complained. “First I forget my food, and then our battery dies!”

Chris got that look he gets on his face when I go a little crazy—the look that says, “My wife is crazy.”

“What’re you looking at?” I said. As if I didn’t know.

We made it to my sister’s house okay, where my brother-in-law could help us change the battery. That should have cheered me up—the fact that my brother-in-law was around to fix the car, when, had we been anywhere else, Chris and I would have been up a creek. It wouldn’t have been much fun finding a mechanic the night before Thanksgiving. But I kept feeling grumpy, because, like I said, I have trouble letting go.

We ate a big family Thanksgiving meal that night, since our other sister wouldn’t be able to join us on Thursday. We had a good time. We ate good food, which my sister and mother had worked on through the whole day. The meal included a 24-pound turkey that my sister had to bake at her neighbor’s house because it wouldn’t fit in her oven. A turkey like that should get any fan of the traditional Thanksgiving meal excited. But, I’m ashamed to admit, I still felt pretty sad. I mean, my niece and nephew had made a little buffet card that read “apple dessert” for the pandowdy that never came and was sitting at home in my freezer. I felt sorry for the poor little buffet card that didn’t get to do its job while all the other buffet cards stood proudly in front of overflowing, fragrant Thankgiving dishes.

And when I had to drive us 100 miles to my parents’ house from my sister’s house that night, through a thunderstorm that had little Neeley screaming in fear and me praying for survival and using the lightning to see by, on two-lane historic Route 66 across southwest Missouri, I was really out of sorts. It even irked me that the radio station we found to follow the tornado warnings was a country station, and I wasn’t in the mood for country music.

“And on top of everything, it’s country!” I exploded.

Chris probably gave me The Look again at this point, but I didn’t see it because there wasn’t any lightning to see by.

We did make it to my parents’ house, although I think was a close call. I’m pretty sure we hydroplaned at least once, and maybe I should have pulled over in decrepit, historic Halltown, Mo., when we heard the tornado sirens, but the deserted look of the place freaked me out—especially the massive ruined barn I looked up at when I pulled off the road once to seek shelter—so I kept driving.

When we finally arrived, I sat a couple of hours on Mom and Dad’s couch, not saying much, staring into space and trying to calm down. It wasn’t easy. I’m not exactly the calm type.

On Thursday, I was exhausted. The events of Wednesday had shaken me up a bit. But then my mother announced we would have turkey sandwiches for supper. A couple of years back Chris suggested my dad try a turkey sandwich with stuffing and gravy on the sandwich, and my parents think it’s a lot of fun to make those sandwiches.

“Can someone go to the store and buy some sandwich rolls?’” Mom asked.

Suddenly I started feeling less sorry for myself.

“I can make some ciabatta!” I said.

“Is that one of your new favorite recipes?” Mom asked.

“Never made ’em before,” I said, “But I’ve eaten them, and I have my friend’s recipe with me.”

Mom gave me the okay. I appreciate the woman’s faith in me. Anyway, here I was, once again making a new recipe for guests, but I felt confident I could do it. My holiday mood came surging back. I spent the next couple of hours happily mixing and kneading dough, letting it rise, forming rolls, and baking. I also cooked up a batch of cranberry compote to spread on the sandwiches.

When, in mid-afternoon, I pulled a baking sheet with five golden-brown ciabatta loaves out of Mom’s oven, I felt pretty good. I felt even better when people actually ate the rolls, and when my dad asked for a second helping of the cranberry compote.

Yeah, I felt good—and thankful. My grumpiness had been smothering some feelings of gratitude that I wasn’t going to bury any longer.

I was thankful I’d thought to bring some recipes along, thankful my mom trusted my ability to make bread, thankful we’d made it through the storm, thankful my battery died while we were visiting my mechanically inclined brother-in-law.

And thankful that when I got home, I’d have homemade rolls and an apple pandowdy to thaw and enjoy during the Christmas holiday season.

Ciabatta (from Iris Goodding’s French bread recipe)

1 package yeast (equal to 2 ¼ tsp yeast)
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup warm water (baby bath water warm — if your kitchen is a little
colder your water can be a little warmer)
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
2 ½ cups to 3 cups flour

Place yeast in a bowl. Cover with the sugar. Add the water. Stir and let sit for 5-10 minutes to dissolve (it should look frothy by the end of the time). Stir in salt, oil and 2 cups of the flour. Stir with a spoon until fairly smooth. Add enough remaining flour to form a soft dough. Knead for 3-5 minutes (avoid over-kneading). Let rise in greased (or oiled), covered bowl for 1 to 2 hours. Divide 4–5 parts lumps of dough about the size of your fist. Take each fist-size lump of dough and pat it back and forth between your hands until it is uniformly round and smooth. Grease a baking sheet and place the balls onto the sheet. Press the ball down so that it is fairly flat while still round (1 to 2 inches think). Let dough rise for another hour while covered.

To bake: Preheat oven to 375F. Bake for 17-25 minutes. (Sometimes they cook fast and sometimes slow.) They should have a nice golden brown glow to them when they are done.

Cool loaves on a rack. When loaves are cool, slice each loaf in half and then slice again for use as a sandwich bread.

How Pumpkin Spiced-Swirl Bread Taught Me a Lesson

“Do not make new dishes for guests.”

I read that advice somewhere, but I’ve ignored it many times.  I’ve lost count of how many times I tried new recipes for dinner guests or took a new dish to a party. Plus, I’ve been on a roll lately, turning out one new successful dish after another. By last weekend, I had begun to think I was invincible.

And then I tried to bake a loaf of pumpkin spice swirl bread for a church women’s breakfast. (You can find the recipe here at the blog “Chickens in the Road.”)

Having learned a little about yeast dough in the last few weeks, I started the process two days ahead. Thursday night, I mixed and kneaded the dough and set it in the fridge to rise overnight. Friday night, I kneaded the dough again (Jonah and I had fun “spanking” the dough, which I told him had been naughty), rolled it out into a rectangle, and added the filling of butter, brown sugar, and pumpkin pie spice (which I made myself by combining 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, and 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg). Then I rolled up the dough, placed it in a loaf pan, and put it in the refrigerator to rise again overnight. All I would have to do Saturday morning was bake the loaf.

And that’s where I ran into trouble.

It should have gone smoothly. I followed some tips from my Joy of Cooking for adding steam to the oven for the first 15 minutes of baking by spritzing water into the oven with a water bottle. That went well, and was fun. But the recipe said to bake the loaf for 25 minutes, and when 25 minutes had passed, I felt some doubt about the loaf being finished. I left it in for a few more minutes, but then I began to worry I would over cook it. And because I don’t have any experience baking loaves of bread, I didn’t have any instincts to rely on.

I did have this advice from Joy of Cooking: When the bread is done, it should pull away from the sides of the pan and make a hollow sound when you thump on the bottom. But to really know if it’s done, check the temperature with an instant-read thermometer.

Well, I didn’t have a food thermometer. I had been delaying the purchase of one for weeks, because I wasn’t sure what kind to get or how much to spend. But, surely, no one really needs to rely on a thermometer. Surely I could figure out from appearance, smell, and touch whether the bread was done.

After giving the bread about 5 minutes more than the called-for 25 minutes, I pulled it out of the oven. It smelled done. The crust was a nice color. The bread had pulled away from the sides of the pan. Would it pass the thump test? I slid a knife around the loaf on all sides and tried to carefully slide it out of the pan. To my horror, a giant chuck of bread stuck to the pan.

My eyes widened in horror. Not sure what to do, I thumped the rest of the loaf on the bottom, then realized I didn’t know how to interpret the sound it made. So, I shoved the rest of the loaf back into the pan and prayed it would meld to the part of the loaf still stuck inside. And maybe cook a little more while sitting in the loaf pan.

I asked myself, Should I have cooked it longer? Was 30 minutes really enough time? But I had no time to do anything about it. I was due at the breakfast in minutes. So I let the bread sit while I got ready to leave, then wrapped the pan in a cloth and drove off to my women’s breakfast.

After reaching the breakfast, I was able to let the bread sit for a few minutes because I’d arrived early to set up. Eventually, though, the time came when I had to try cutting a slice. I pulled out a knife, hoped for the best and cut in—and discovered that the entire center of the loaf was doughy and completely uncooked.

“Ooh, that’s not done,” I said … which was an understatement. Pretty on the outside, on the inside, the loaf of bread was as far from done as it could be.

“How bad is it?” said Janice, a church friend who was standing nearby. She had been drawn over by the smell of fresh bread, and now she leaned in to take a look.

“Oh, that’s really not done!” she said.

I was crestfallen.

Oddly, Janice looked as crestfallen as me. “It smells great, though,” Janice said.

She sounded disappointed. I knew Janice loved bread. So I cut off a piece from the top of the loaf, where it was cooked through. “Try it,” I said.

Janice took a bite. “Well, that part tastes really good!” she said. And she perked up a little.

I looked at the loaf. Then, quickly, I sawed off the top third of the loaf, cut it into chunks, and laid the chunks of bread on the cloth I’d brought from home.

I carried the rest of the loaf over to the trash can and dumped it in.

At the breakfast, I watched women walk by the serving table, stop to look at the bread chunks, and read the grand little sign I’d made at home before coming: “Pumpkin spice bread.”

Then, wonder of wonders, I watched almost all of it disappear.

Even so, serving those chunks as “pumpkin spice bread” was humiliating.

I learned some valuable lessons from this failure. First, I was taking a big risk baking a loaf of bread for guests when I’d never baked a loaf of bread before. Second, l didn’t leave myself enough time to make sure the bread was done before leaving the house. Third, sometimes a baker can salvage part of a loaf, but I’ve been humbled—I know I can’t count on that every time, and there’s very little to be proud of in serving ruined chunks of bread instead of a glorious full loaf.

Also, that afternoon I went to Walmart and bought an instant read thermometer.

Who Needs Meat When You’ve Got Homemade Soup and Breadsticks?

Soup, Salad, and Breadsticks

In my house, we eat a lot of meat. Pork chops, bacon, sausage, chicken, steak, roast, hamburger, bologna, ham, salami … the list goes on and on.

Yes, I will admit, we are one of those households that eats meat for two out of three meals every day. But I’ve been thinking it would be a good idea to have some meals in my repertoire that don’t involve meat.


Why would I want to eat a meal without meat when bacon tastes so, so good?

I know that’s what my husband wonders. And if I wanted to serve a meal without meat, I knew I’d have to make it a meal so tasty that Chris wouldn’t even notice there was no steak or pork chop on his plate.

Back to why I would want to prepare a meal with no meat main dish: First, meat costs a lot, and there are times at the end of the month when nothing is on sale and I could save a little money if I didn’t have to run out to the store to buy high-priced chicken or beef or whatever. Second, eating meat makes calories add up fast, and I like to have some “light” suppers on my list for days when I’ve had a big lunch or when I’d like to indulge a little for dessert after supper. Third, I know that decades ago, people ate a lot of meals without meat, largely because of reason #1 above (they couldn’t afford it), and now and then I like to experience what things were like for previous generations. Although I must admit my personal journey back in time would only be a partial historical re-creation; I wasn’t planning to shut off our electricity or move the bathroom out to the backyard for the night of the big Meatless Dinner.

Anyway, for my meatless meal experiment, I settled on a menu of soup, salad, and homemade breadsticks. I figured, if the breadsticks and soup turned out great, we could stuff ourselves with bread and allow the aroma of the chicken stock-based soup to fool our brains into thinking we’d feasted on chicken.

Would it work?

My Joy of Cooking includes a simple recipe for stracciatella, or Italian parmesan and egg soup that I decided to try. It’s essentially a deconstructed matzo ball soup, with egg, parmesan, breadcrumbs, and spices cooked just a couple of minutes in a simmering chicken stock.

Garnished with the magical spice nutmeg, my current favorite, the soup turned out pretty yummy. No, it wasn’t filling, but for that purpose we had—oh, yes!—steaming, buttery, parmesan-sprinkled hot homemade breadsticks.

They were beautiful. They smelled heavenly. They tasted delicious. And, as Chris pointed out, they looked, smelled, and tasted a fair bit like Crazy Bread from Little Caesar’s, the cheapest pizza chain in America.

“Is that a compliment?” I asked. I wasn’t sure.

“Well, you love Crazy Bread,” he said.

It’s true, I do.

I ate four breadsticks, one bowl of soup, and a simple side salad. And guess what? I did not miss the meat. I really didn’t.

But I have a confession to make.

While the chicken stock was coming to a simmer, while the breadsticks were baking, before the salads were made, I got worried that Chris would freak out when he figured out there wasn’t any meat for dinner. So I sliced up some summer sausage to put on his plate next to the soup. And I ate a slice myself. So help me, I did.

Below are the recipes needed to make for this simple soup and homemade breadsticks (which, incidentally, reheated well for a meal the next day).

I have left out any reference to the pre-meal summer sausage snack. I was weak … but you don’t have to be.

Italian Parmesan and Egg Soup (Stracciatella)

A Roman specialty, stracciatella derives its name from the word straccetti, little rags—describing the strands of egg that float in the broth.

Bring to a simmer in a medium saucepan:

3 cups chicken stock

Meanwhile, whisk together until blended:

1 large egg

1 ½ tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon dry unseasoned breadcrumbs (I had only Italian breadcrumbs and used them instead)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (I didn’t have any so I left this out)

1 small clove garlic, finely minced

Stir this mixture rapidly into the simmering stock and stir until the egg is set, 30 to 60 seconds. Garnish with:

Freshly grated or ground nutmeg or grated lemon zest

Ladle into warmed bowls

Homemade Pizza or Breadstick Dough (from Aunt Marilyn Hill)

1 1/3 cup warm water

1 pkg (2 ¼ tsp yeast)

1 ½ tsp salt

2 tbsp oil

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

Dissolve yeast in water. Stir in salt, sugar, and oil. Add flour one cup at a time. Mix well. Add ½ cup flour if dough is too sticky. Allow to rise for 30–45 minutes. (You may freeze the dough at this point.)

For breadsticks (from Our Best Bites):

Remove dough from bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Roll into a rectangle and cut into 12 strips with a pizza cutter.

Roll out each piece of dough into a snake and then drape over your forefinger and twist the dough. Place on baking sheet and repeat with remaining 11 pieces of dough. Try to space them evenly, but it’s okay if they’re close.

Cover pan and allow dough to rise for another 30 minutes. When there’s about 15 minutes to go, preheat your oven to 425. When done rising, bake for 10–12 minutes or until golden brown. Rub some butter on top of the breadsticks (just put a Ziploc bag on your hand, grab some softened butter, and have at it) and sprinkle with garlic bread seasoning or the powdery Parmesan cheese in a can and garlic salt. Or you could sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar.

I Made German Mennonite Zwiebach (and I’m not German)

Most families have favorite recipes that have special meaning for all the kids and grandkids. In family, there’s the iced Christmas cookies my mom had us make every year and which now my sister Jenny makes with her kids and any of the nieces and nephews who are around. There’s the family brownie recipe, the family five-minute fudge recipe, the broccoli-cheese-rice casserole recipe, the chicken gumbo recipe (a mild version that suits my bland Anglo-Saxon palate), the pineapple jello salad recipe, and so on.

In my husband’s family, thanks to his mother’s side of the family, family favorites comprise an entire menu of German Mennonite dishes. To be more specific: Germans-from-Russia Mennonite dishes.

Now, my family has been in North America for so long that we don’t have any ethnic dishes in our family recipe treasure trove. Our recipes all have American names and no special ethnic history. I love our family foods; but in my husband’s family, the names themselves are unique and beloved:

Cherry Moos


Vareneke …

Borscht …


I’ve been learning to bake bread lately, focusing on rolls (let’s hear it for rolls!), and every time I talked about baking in the past couple of months, my husband would say, “You should make zwiebach.”

“What on earth is that?” I asked.

Or my mother-in-law would say, “Have you tried to make zwiebach?”

And my father-in-law would say, “And there’s always Oma’s zwiebach …”

I wasn’t even sure how it was spelled. Curious, I googled “zwieback” and found recipes for something like Melba toast. Then I looked up “zwiebach,” and I found it. Sure enough, it was a roll—a “double bun,” or a roll with a topknot on it.

So when the date rolled around for my husband’s grandfather’s 90th birthday, and I found myself searching for something special I could make, the answer was obvious.

I called my mother-in-law.

“Do you have a recipe for that zwiebach?” I asked.

Mom Nichols had her grandmother’s recipe in a family cookbook she worked on a few years back, so I borrowed the book and read the recipe. It raised a lot of questions for me.

Did I need to knead the dough? When exactly did I shape the rolls? What size should they be? How many rolls would the recipe make?

Because Oma went to heaven a long time ago, and since my mother-in-law has never made zwiebach herself, I scoured the Internet for advice. I read five or so zwiebach recipes, garnered tips from most of them, and then added a sheet containing the best advice to the cookbook containing Oma’s recipe.

As I looked over all the recipes, I realized I was going to have a timing problem—I wouldn’t be home most of the night before the party and wouldn’t be able to keep an eye on the dough for the first rise. Could I refrigerate the dough?

That sent me on a whole new Google adventure. I researched “refrigerating bread dough” until I had a good plan worked out.

  1. Friday after work: Mix and knead the dough and put it in the fridge.
  2. Leave for in-laws’ house for dinner and family trip to Boo at the Zoo event.
  3. Three hours later, return from Boo at the Zoo and remove dough from the fridge.
  4. Warm the chilled dough and complete the first rise.
  5. Stay up really, really late shaping dough, completing a second rise, and baking the rolls.

I own three cookie sheets, and I decided to bake all the rolls at once. I wound up with about 36 rolls. All golden brown, plump double rolls with an aroma that drew Chris into the kitchen.

He had to eat one away.

“Is this what they’re supposed to be like?” I asked.

“They taste like Oma’s!” he said.

“You’re kidding,” I said. “Really?”

“Although these are bigger than hers,” he said.

“Are they supposed to be small? Oh, dear,” I said.

“Oh, it’s fine,” he said. “Try one!”

Oh, yes, they were good. But I never had Oma’s zwiebach, so I didn’t know if I’d done what I wanted to do: reproduce a favorite.

The next morning we got into the car with two bags of rolls and drove to Abilene, Kansas, for the birthday party. We got there at noon, and I realized right away that the news that I was bringing zwiebach had spread.

“Heard you brought zwiebach,” said one of the uncles.

“Looks like zwiebach,” said someone else.

But the big test remained. As I watched the zwiebach disappear from the serving table, I also looked around the room to find people eating it. Chris’s grandma had one. Great Aunt Noreen had one. Uncle Kevin had one. Aunt Becky had one. In fact, almost everyone had one.

Had I done it?

I started walking around the room, stopping at each table for just a moment.

“Good zwiebach!”

“Nice job.”

“These taste just like Oma’s.”

“ALMOST as good as Oma’s,” said Uncle John.

“Keep making the zwiebach,” said Uncle Kevin.

Well, Uncle Kevin, I will.

I don’t have any German blood, I’m not one of the family, but what better way to let them know I love and respect my husband’s heritage? And my boys are a quarter German. They and their future wives are going to know about zwiebach—with an “h.”

Oh, and Grandma said I can make the zwiebach any size I want.

Oma’s Zwiebach Recipe, revised by her great-granddaughter-in-law

1 cake compressed yeast [equates to 1 packet or 2 ¼ tsp]

½ cup warm water

1/3 cup sugar

3 ½ c scalded milk [I didn’t know how to scald the milk so I microwaved it until it was hot]

1 cup shortening [I used ½ cup shortening and ½ cup butter]

4 tsp salt

Dissolve yeast in warm water with part of the sugar. Pour milk on shortening. When cool, add salt and rest of sugar.

Add the yeast mixture and 10–12 cups of flour [enough to make a medium dough that may be sticky. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.]

Let rise until double (about two hours at 80 degrees). SHORT COLD RISE: I let it rise in the refrigerator for three hours. When I took it out, it was almost double. At this point I boiled 1–2 cups of water in the microwave, then put the dough in the microwave with the hot water. The bread was raised double in less than an hour.

Knead down, then pinch off small to medium-sized of dough and put on greased pan. For every ball you roll, roll a second smaller one and set it on top of the first roll. Press down lightly with the knuckle of your index finger to meld the two rolls. Let rise for 30 minutes. Now bake at 375 for 20–25 minutes.

Q: What goes with chili? A: Cinnamon rolls, of course.

When I first started writing The Bumbling Chef, my husband’s cousin Heather told me about one of her favorite food blogs, Our Best Bites. She wanted me to try the pizza rolls recommended on that blog, and after they turned out to be a hit with my husband (although not my children, who are suspicious of pizza that doesn’t look like pizza), I started following the blog myself. That’s where I found a recipe for Everyday Cinnamon Rolls.

I wish I could eat them every day. But that would be dangerous. These yeast cinnamon rolls are really, really yummy, and it was cinnamon rolls—well, and donuts—that contributed to my mid-twenties weight gain a while back—the weight gain that it took me seven years to kick.

So I will eat you, yummy cinnamon roll, but not every day. I’m sorry.

For weeks I have wanted to try my hand at baking cinnamon rolls, which are God’s gift to all people and, in particular, to me personally—a gift that, as I’ve said, we must save for special occasions.

I finally got the chance when my friend Mandy planned a Chili and Cinnamon Rolls football party.

Here in Lincoln, Nebraska, the traditional side for chili is cinnamon rolls. The rumor I heard is that this food pairing started as a regular on the public school’s lunch menu, and that generations have grown up and left the LPS system addicted to the combination. Of course, like the invention of donuts, the origin of this tradition probably has many different versions. Whatever the truth of the tradition’s origin, in Lincoln, where you find chili, you find cinnamon rolls.

My parents live in Missouri and have only been to Lincoln three times in their lives. When I told them over the phone how people in Lincoln eat their chili, they were taken aback.

“They eat what?”

“Chili and cinnamon rolls.”


“Yup, together.”

“That sounds … odd.” 

“Not here. Even some of the restaurants have signs that advertise ‘Chili and Cinnamon Rolls,” I offered.

“How exactly do they eat this?” they asked.

“I don’t know … I guess the way anybody eats chili or cinnamon rolls,” I answered.

“But together?”

Clearly my parents found something about the idea repulsive.

There was a slight pause.

“Do they pour the chili over the cinnamon roll?” Dad asked.

“Or dip the roll in the chili?” Mom asked.

Now I saw what really bothered them.

“No, I don’t think so,” I said. “I think they eat them separate. The roll is a side dish.”

My parents were nauseated. And, I think, a little fascinated. We talk about this odd Lincoln food combo several times a year. And they’ve been telling their friends at church about it.

When I was on the phone with them Saturday morning and mentioned I was making cinnamon rolls for this party, they both laughed.

“Tell Chris to be sure to pour his chili all over his cinnamon roll,” said Dad.

“They don’t do that,” I reminded him.

But it doesn’t matter. It sounds funnier if you picture it the other way.

After the phone call with my parents, I planned for the baking process and got to work. I figured I could make the rolls about an hour and a half before we had to leave to watch the game with my friend Mandy and her family, and that turned out to be just enough time.

I followed the recipe and, for the most part, it went swimmingly. Other than the inevitable moment when I found my hands covered in gummy sticky dough and nearly ran screaming from the room. But not everyone has that reaction.

I did have a little trouble rolling the dough up with the topping inside, as the dough was sticky enough to tear here and there. I think if I had floured my pastry board again before rolling out the dough, I could have prevented the tearing when I rolled it up. Even so, I did get it all rolled and cut into pieces without the dough actually falling apart. And I was proud of myself, because in the old days a few weeks ago, I would have begun yelling “I can’t do this! I am a failure! Thanks for ruining my life, cinnamon rolls!”

But now I know that I can fix some things and that a torn roll isn’t the end of the world. The fact is, however messy that cinnamon roll was going into the pan, when it comes out of the pan, gooey and warm and smelling of cinnamon, it’s the perfect companion for a bowl of chili.

And you might try it the way my dad suggested.

Everyday Cinnamon Rolls

Taken from Our Best Bites. Adapted by Our Best Bites from Allrecipes and then adapted slightly by Sarah Nichols


1 cup milk

4 Tbsp butter, cut into chunks

3 ¼–3 ½ cups all-purpose flour, divided

1 (.25 ounce) package instant yeast (about 2 ¼ tsp)

¼ cup white sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 egg


1 cup brown sugar, packed

1 ½ tablespoon ground cinnamon

½ cup butter, softened

Icing (I just used leftover quick white icing that I made to top a cake the week before)
1 ½ C powdered sugar
2 T melted butter
½ tsp vanilla
1–2 Tbs milk

Dough: Place milk and 4 Tbs butter in a microwave safe bowl. (I used Our Best Bite’s tip and heat just ¾ C of milk, then added the remaining ¼ cup after heating it to bring the temperature back down.) Heat on high for 1 minute 30 seconds. Butter should be at least partially melted. Stir and set aside. In a large mixing bowl whisk together 2 C flour, yeast, white sugar, and salt. When milk mixture has cooled to warm (not hot) add it to the flour mixture along with the egg while the beater (paddle attachment for those using a stand mixer) is running. Beat until well combined, about 1 minute. (With a hand mixer, do this on low speed, then beat 2–3 minutes on medium speed.) Switch to the dough hook now. Add remaining flour only until dough barely leaves the sides of the bowl. It should be very soft and slightly sticky. Continue to let the dough knead for 5 minutes. If you are not using a stand mixer, turn dough out onto floured surface and knead for 5 minutes by hand. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and let rest for about 10 minutes while you make the filling.

Filling: make sure butter is softened well. Mix with brown sugar and cinnamon.

Assembly: Roll dough into a rectangle about 12 x 14 inches. Spread brown sugar mixture (it will be slightly thick, you might have to “crumble” it) over the surface and use your fingers or the back of a spoon to gently spread around. Roll up from the longer side of the rectangle and pinch edges closed. Score the roll into 12 equal pieces and then cut into rolls. Use dental floss to score and cut the rolls. Place three across and four down in a 9 x 13 pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Cover pan with a clean towel and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes. I used the extra tip from Our Best Bites narrative about letting the rolls rise in the microwave. In the mean time, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

When rolls have finished rising bake for 15-20 minutes or until light golden brown. If desired spread with icing while still warm. Makes 12 rolls.

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